Words by Kimberly Eggleston
All Live Photos Credit: Jonathan Sippel
I’ve never been to a music festival before. In my 22 years I’ve been to plenty of concerts, and plenty of musical theater performances, but never have I spent a whole weekend dedicated to elbowing my way through a tight crowd, drinking booze, and running from stage to stage to rock out to my favorite bands, and discovering amazing artists I’ve never even heard of. But this weekend here in Chicago, I jumped into this crazy world that is Riot Fest feet first.
My partner in crime Jonathan and I arrived nice and early to the festival to catch a few early acts. Unfortunately among the hustle and bustle of the weekend, and the 30 plus bands we saw, photos of the first two bands were lost, but I think I can paint a good picture of what went down with our two first acts: Citizen and Fu Manchu.
Citizen kicked off their set on the Rise stage with “Sleep”, which despite the name, had an amazing energy that got the crowd jumping. This is when the rain started to hit, but the fans didn’t care. People started breaking out their ponchos (yay for the no umbrella rule!) and continued singing along, and body surfing through the crowd. By the time they finished “Figure You Out,” a few songs in the rain had basically stopped and it seemed that would be the end of the sogginess for the weekend as the clouds slowly disappeared, and the sun began to heat things up. We made our way over to the next stage to see Fu Manchu. Soon to set out to the UK for a tour, the hard rock band from California stopped at Chicago to rip up the Riot stage this weekend with popular songs like “King of the road”. When the band announced that “Saturn III” would be their last song, the crowd protested, but cheered when they joked “Alright, another hour!”.
At this time of the day there weren’t that many people wandering around, but then again it was a Friday afternoon, and most people were probably still at their 9-5 job, waiting for that clock to hit the final minutes before their own weekend of amazing headbanging excitement could begin, you know, after the bills were paid. But for the now, I got to admire the clean, un-littered grass, and rows upon rows of orange and pink trash bins that would soon be overflowing with beer cans and Connie’s pizza boxes. Next on our list was Dillinger Escape Plan. This band played hard and fast, and had a crazy stage presence that was contagious, and spread to everyone in the crowd. Sometime between “Room full of Eyes” and “Hero of the Soviet Union”, guitarist Ben Weinman, who’s been with the band since their start in ‘97 ran and jumped on Rymer’s drum kit, and then made his way out into the audience, still rocking out on his guitar as he stood there in the crowd, fans holding him up, until he fell. He was lifted into the air and carried back toward the stage in a true rock show fashion. At this time Jonathan and I made our way over to the Rock stage to see the band I had been eagerly waiting all day for.
GWAR is on a whole other level than most bands we saw this weekend, but that could be because they’re from outer space. They were the first of many bands we saw this weekend shine a light on American politics, but they probably did it in the most entertaining way- with a match to the death between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump for the presidency. Of course they couldn’t do this without bringing “Obama” on stage first because, as they put it, “If you want to be the president, you have the beat the president”. Cue the beheading of the current president, and, doing what GWAR does best, they covered the crowd in a glorious shower of blood. Then they brought the two competing candidates on stage where they proceeded to fight. There was punching, kicking, and eventually, Hilary Clinton ripping the flesh off Donald Trump’s face and body, pulling his insides out and spraying the audience with his dirty Republican goo. All the while GWAR brought down the house with “Bring back the bomb”, and put on one hell of a performance. People came out of the mosh pit panting, red-faced, and smiling.
Things wound down a bit as people began flocking over to the Roots Stage to see Meat Puppets perform. Well known for collaborating with Nirvana back in the day, the band had a solid show, playing some oldies like “Up on the Sun” and other popular songs such as “Lake of Fire”. We eventually backtracked over once again to the Rise stage to catch Glassjaw. Things got a little heavier with this post-hardcore band, and the crowd reflected the energy.
As the day went on the crowds got bigger. Maybe it was the beautiful weather that brought people out, or maybe it was Jimmy Eat World. When the band came on stage the crowd cheered like crazy. Jim was super humble and kept thanking everyone for coming out. They had a great crowd interaction, joking that he could tell who had gone to see GWAR earlier on in the day by all the pink faces. They ended on a high note, playing their popular, and one of my personal favorite songs, “The Middle”. Overall it was a great set, and as I chugged another Red Bull I could feel a second wind of energy coming on. I was ready for the headliners.
Our first headliner of the night was Ween. They’ve had a busy and strong year since getting back together in November of 2015 after breaking up in 2012, and tonight they hit the stage with their quirky number “Dancing in The Show Tonight”. What I loved about this bands’ set was that you didn’t know what to expect next. Deen and Gene Ween have an amazing eclectic style to their music, so one moment the crowd is rocking out to something on the heavier side like “The Golden Eel”, and the next they’re bopping along to songs like “Touch my Tooter”, and songs about ticks eating their heads. It was a crazy and fun show to enjoy the last minutes of sunshine with before night hit.
On the other side of the park, a different sort of band was getting ready to play their headlining show as well. Slowly emerging from bright spaceships in their equally bright spacesuits, Peirce the Veil was ready to put on a show that was out of this world. Not GWAR out of this world, but you know, as they slowly stripped their space clothes off, you knew it’d be entertaining in its own way. It was easy to tell this band drew a younger crowd as I stepped aside to let young teens with their parents sneak in front of me for a better view. But they were a very dedicated crowd, screaming over the start of every song, screaming at the end of every song, screaming over every move they make, every breath they take… you get the idea. They got the crowd going with a good hit “Dive In” where they shot confetti from cannons into the crowd. Everyone cheered and danced. It was magical, and the only thought going through my head was “who has to clean this?” For the people who were participating in Riot Fest’s Green Team, where fest-goers fill a 1-gallon bag with garbage smaller than a silver dollar, it was most likely seen as their free ticket to Riot Fest 2017, literally. So thank you for that, Pierce the Veil.
Another band I was really looking forward to Friday was the second last headliner we saw that night. The Flaming Lips were a band I’d heard of being great performance artists, having crazy props and lighting effects, and they didn’t disappoint. During Ween’s set earlier in the day I could see them setting up for The Flaming Lips show, hanging long icicle lights that spanned the height of the stage. The anticipation was strong. Wayne came out on stage wearing a big fur winter coat, despite the weather being in the mid-70s. They had a nice melodic start with “Race for the Prize”, followed by “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: Part one” which was apparently a little disappointing of a sing-a-long… for them at least. They had stopped the show mid-song to briefly lecture us, the audience, of the importance of repeating “hey hey” after him, and how the repetition of these words would reflect the rest of our life. It personally left me having a bit of an existential crisis, but he graciously let us redeem ourselves by starting from the top, and the audience yelling “HEY, HEY” at the top of their lungs when he told us Yoshimi was a black belt in Karate. This was around the same time he brought the rainbow and people dressed up as butterflies and sunshine on stage, and shot not only confetti but streamers and large balloons out into the crowd, putting Pierce the Veil’s attempt at a little glitter to shame. Sorry guys, the Flaming Lips win this time. Wayne stopped to praise Ween during his show, saying he hadn’t played “with” (referring to the fact they had just played less than an hour ago on the stage right beside theirs) the band since Kansas back in 2011. This was a good place for a reunion then! The rest of the set was fun and psychedelic, Wayne changing part way through into a sparkling outfit that matched the rest of the stage, with a very sexy hairy chest t-shirt underneath his LED light jacket. Jonathan and I enjoyed most of the show from farther back in the audience by a girl shooting bubbles out of her bubble gun, jealous that she was clearly on some other heavenly level we had yet to discover. It was overall super weird, in a good way. Exactly what I was expecting and nothing like what I thought it would be.
But not everyone thought the Flaming lips was weird in a good way. Headlining over at the Rock Stage was punk band NOFX. They were funny in an obnoxious way, telling the audience to support punk bands while praising The Specials as the best band that played that day, and “Don’t support weird bands” throwing some massive shade toward the sunshine and rainbow stage covered band just a few hundred feet away from them. Putting that all aside they had a good show, playing for the first time they’re song “Oxy Moronic” which is a pun-filled song shedding light on the pharmaceutical prescribed drug world we live in. They then announced excitedly they’d be doing 3 songs in 3 minutes, and without hesitation gave us the 3 of the best quickies of the night with “I’m telling Tim”, “Instant Crassic” and “Can’t get the stink out”. I was fully satisfied by the end.
Having never been to a music festival before, Riot Fest was probably the best possible way for me to finally crawl out of that rock I’d been living under. My feet were sore by the end of the night and I couldn’t wait until day 2 when I could do it all over again.